AILA and the American Immigration Council recently filed a lawsuit against the U.S. immigration court in El Paso, claiming that the court at the El Paso Service Processing Center (SPC) has arbitrary and unjust rules that decrease asylum-seekers’ chances of staying in the country.
The complaint draws from interviews of attorneys practicing in the El Paso SPC — many speaking only anonymously for fear of retaliation by the judges — in addition to court observations of hundreds of immigration hearings and an analysis of the judges’ courtroom protocols. The lawsuit details barriers to a fair day in court including:
· the use of unreasonable and unjust courtroom procedures established by sitting judges, such as an arbitrary page limit on supporting evidence packets;
· a culture of contempt and hostility toward respondents, including egregious and unprofessional comments from judges;
· blanket denials of requests by remote attorneys to make telephonic hearing appearances; and
· the failure to provide any or linguistically correct interpretation at hearings.
In 2017, the most recent year for which data was available, the El Paso court approved only four of the 88 asylum cases it considered, or about 4.5 percent. The previous year, it approved just three out of 130 applications, or 2.3 percent. Nationwide, about 40 percent of asylum seekers are approved, and their cases largely depend on which judge they go before. In New York, some judges grant asylum to 60 percent of applicants.